Mushrooms, Cholesterol and Statin Drugs An estimated 98.6 million American adults have blood cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL and higher, and of these about 34.4 million American adults have levels of 240 mg/dL or above. Current mainstream medical opinion is that in adults, total cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher are considered high-risk. Levels from 200-239 mg/dL are considered borderline high-risk. The blood cholesterol levels to which these risk ratings are assigned have been pushed down steadily by the medical establishment ever since health professionals first learned how to measure cholesterol levels in the blood. For example, in 1966 following Harvard’s famous Framingham cholesterol study, the public was told that a total cholesterol count of 300 was good. More recently, a total cholesterol level of only 180 mg/dL can be enough for a doctor to diagnose you as being “sick” and give you the dreaded prescription for one or more expensive statin drugs for the rest of your life. These sorts of diagnoses and prescriptions are supported by the full weight of the U.S. government, the media, the medical establishment and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry. Many health practitioners dispute this mindset but they face an uphill battle. While statin drug pushers promote statin drugs’ cholesterol-lowering properties as therapy to reduce the risk of a heart attack, something they neglect to mention is that many studies have shown that just as many people with low or normal cholesterol experience a heart attack as those with elevated cholesterol. Statin drugs are very big business and account for an estimated 6.5% of the total pharmaceutical drug sales. Statin drugs are the most widely sold pharmaceutical drugs in history. As of 2008, statin drugs were earning drug companies an estimated $26 billion in annual sales. Statin drugs have been promoted as being effective agents at reducing low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and increasing high-density lipoproteins (HDL) levels and thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. While the FDA has deemed statin drugs to be safe to use for their intended purpose(s), no drug is without side effects. Statin drugs have several potentially serious side effects. As the use of statin drugs continues to increase and as more people have been taking statins for prolonged periods that are significantly longer than was required for the drug’s testing prior to FDA approval, the side effects of statins are affecting more people than ever before. The possible side effects resulting from the use of statin drugs include: - Muscle pain and weakness (Rhabdomyolysis) - Neuropathy (malfunction of peripheral nervous system): numbness, tingling, burning pain - Memory loss, amnesia, delirium - Mood swings, behavioral changes, depression - Dizziness - Reduced libido, infertility, various reproductive problems - Increased risk of cancer (Dalen. 1996 and Newman T. 1996) - Increased risk of cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure and calcification of the arteries. - Increased rates of plaque deposition in the arteries. Cholesterol is not our “enemy” as we have been lead to believe. In our wholesale acceptance of cholesterol reduction as a way to prevent disease, we seem to have forgotten (or perhaps never knew) the many vital functions of cholesterol in our bodies. The functions of cholesterol include: -
Every cell membrane in our body contains cholesterol that functions to make our cells “waterproof”. Cholesterol is a precursor to Vitamin D. Cholesterol is a part of bile salts that are required for the digestion of fats.
Cholesterol is the main organic molecule in the brain, constituting over one-half the dry weight of the cerebral cortex. Cholesterol is vital to proper neurological function and plays a key role in memory formation and the uptake of hormones by the brain. Cholesterol is the precursor to all hormones produced in the adrenal cortex including compounds that regulate blood sugar levels and mineral balance. The adrenal cortex also produces sex hormones including testosterone, estrogen and progesterone, using cholesterol as a precursor. Research has shown that squalene, the immediate precursor to cholesterol, has anti-cancer effects. Cholesterol functions as a powerful antioxidant in our bodies. Cholesterol is the body’s repair substance; scar tissue contains high levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol assists in the removal of toxins from the blood stream thereby preventing potential damage to arteries. Cholesterol plays a critical role in sealing and stabilizing damaged or weakened arteries. Cholesterol is part of a metabolic pathway that also results in the biosynthesis of Co-Enzyme Q10, a compound vital to ATP synthesis (our cell’s “energy currency”). Fluvastin, lovastatin and simvastatin have all been shown to produce strong decreases in cellular ATP levels and mitochondrial activity. Co-Q10 is also involved in the regulation of respiration via enzymes and also in maintaining cell membrane integrity that is critical to nerve conduction and muscle integrity.
LDL cholesterol is characterized as being the “bad” cholesterol while HDL cholesterol is characterized as the “good” cholesterol. The truth is that LDL cholesterol is actually the form of cholesterol that is involved in the all of these listed vital functions. The function of HDL cholesterol is basically to remove excess cholesterol from the arteries once the LDL’s job is complete. Given the facts that statin drugs are expensive and have many potentially serious side effects, and that cholesterol, despite being labeled as a “killer”, actually performs many vital functions in our bodies--- it would seem wise to look for gentler, more broad-based approaches to cholesterol “management”. Might it be possible that trying to regulate cholesterol with “silver bullet” (or more aptly “silver sledgehammer”) pharmaceutical statin drugs is a very risky proposition? What are the alternatives? While approximately 20% of the cholesterol in our bodies comes from the diet, the liver produces the remaining 80% to meet the body’s demands. In general, the body produces only what it needs and thus we should as much as possible allow our bodies to regulate cholesterol levels. That being said, dietary approaches to “assisting” our body’s natural cholesterol management can be very successful. Adequate exercise and rest and the reduction of stress in our lives can also have very positive impacts on cholesterol management. The regular consumption of mushrooms can also be a very helpful strategy. It is not well-known that the original statin drug Lovastatin™ was first isolated from the fungus Aspergillus terreus. Natural Lovastatin is also found in both the fruit bodies and mycelium of mushrooms in the Pleurotus genus, which includes King Trumpet mushrooms (Pleurotus eryngii). Lovastatin™ was subsequently synthesized in the laboratory and patented by Merck, a large international pharmaceutical corporation. It should be noted that the patent that Merck filed for synthetic Lovastatin™ was for a compound altered from its natural form. Merck’s patent was for a compound that simplified many of biochemical complexities of the naturally-occurring compound. In the patent, Merck stated that the some of complexities of the fungal metabolites were “superfluous” and “could be eliminated without compromising biological activity” (Rea, 2008). While a “naturally” occurring statin compound may present the same unwanted side effects of a synthetic statin drug, oral consumption of a whole food in a complete nutritional matrix of enzymes, vitamins and minerals is inherently less risky than the consumption of a synthetic drug in high concentrations on a daily, prescribed basis. In addition to the natural statins found in mushrooms, mushrooms offer other cholesterol-managing bioactivities. Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) have been shown to contain several compounds including Ganoderal A, B and C and also Ganoderic Acid Y that are potent inhibitors of cholesterol
synthesis. It is interesting to note that this inhibition takes place at a different point in biochemical synthesis pathway than statin drugs and may avoid some of the adverse side effects of statins (Hajjaj, 2005). The dietary fiber in mushrooms has also been shown to significantly lower cholesterol concentrations. Research demonstrated that this activity was via enhancement of fecal cholesterol excretion and also by enhancement of hepatic LDL receptor mRNA (Fukushima, 2001). Cordyceps militaris (Won, 2005) and Antrodia camphorata (Ao, 2009) mushrooms have been shown to be powerful liver tonics. The liver regulates cholesterol metabolism, and high cholesterol levels can be a symptom of liver dysfunction. Promoting liver health and function can reduce the bad cholesterol and increase the level of good cholesterol. Recent research at the Shinshu University School of Medicine in Japan has demonstrated that consumption of King Trumpet (Pleurotus eryngii) can also have a very positive effect on liver health and function even in cases of high-cholesterol diets (http://www.hoktokinoko.com/res_repo3.html). Depending upon the species and method of cultivation, mushrooms are good to excellent sources of Vitamin D2 and Niacin. Both Vitamin D and Niacin have been shown to be useful in helping our bodies to regulate cholesterol levels (Holick, 2004 and Ganji, 2003). Mushroom producers can significantly enhance the concentrations of Vitamin D2 in mushrooms by exposing them to high intensity ultraviolet light either during the cultivation process or post-harvest. The deposition of plaque on arterial walls is a primary culprit in cardio-vascular diseases and heart attacks. Research on rats at the Shinshu University School of Medicine in Japan demonstrated that the consumption of Beech mushrooms (Hypsizygus marmoreus), Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and King Trumpet (Pleurotus eryngii) can significantly reduce atherosclerotic lesions in rats fed high-cholesterol diets (Mori, K., et. al., 2008), (http://www.hokto-kinoko.com/res_repo1.html) Atherosclerosis is a condition in which the artery wall thickens as the result of the buildup of fatty materials such as cholesterol. The condition is due in large part to the accumulation of macrophage white blood cells and is promoted by LDL’s without adequate removal of fats and cholesterol from the macrophages by functional HDL’s. Thus, the regular consumption of fresh mushrooms and mushroom dietary supplements is a dietary strategy that can aid our body’s natural system of cholesterol regulation while avoiding many of the harmful side effects of expensive statin drugs. Furthermore, mushrooms offer useful and safe cholesterol-managing strategies that involve several metabolic pathways and modes of action. - SF References: Ao, Z-H. et. al. 2009. “Niuchangchih (Antrodia camphorata) and its potential in treating liver diseases”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Jan. 21, 2009; 121(2):194-212. Dalen J. and Dalton W. 1996. “Does lowering cholesterol cause cancer?” Journal of the American Medical Association. Jan. 3, 1996; 275:67-69 Fukushima, M. et al. 2001. “Cholesterol-lowering effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) fiber, Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) fiber, and Enokitake (Flammulina velutipes) fiber in Rats”. Experimental Biology and Medicine. 226:758-765. Ganji, SH et. al. 2003. “Niacin and cholesterol: role in cardiovascular disease (review)”. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 14(6):298-305. Hajjaj, Hassan et. al. 2005. “Effects of 26-Oxygenosterols from Ganoderma lucidum and their activity as cholesterol synthesis inhibitors”. Applied and Environmental Microbiology: July 2005. 71(7): 3653-3658.
Holick, MF. 2004. “Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis”. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. March 2004, 79(3): 362-371. Mori, K., et. al., 2008. “Antiatherosclerotic effect of the edible mushrooms Pleurotus eryngii (Eringi), Grifola frondosa (Maitake), and Hypsizygus marmoreus (Bunashimeji) in apolipoprotein in E-deficient mice”. Nutrition Research. May 2008; 28(5):335-342. Newman, T, Hulley S. 1996. “Carcinogenicity of lipid-lowering drugs”. American Medical Association. Jan. 3, 1996. 276:55-60 Rea, Phillip. 2008. “Statins: From Fungus to Pharma”. American Scientist. Sept-Oct 2008: 96(5): 408-413. www.americanscientist.org/issues/num2/2008/5/statins-from-fungus-pharma/3 Won SY, Park EH. 2005. “Anti-inflammatory and related pharmacological activity of cultured mycelia and fruit bodies of Cordyceps militaris”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Jan. 13, 2005, 96(3): 551-561.